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Debt ceiling fight on the horizon

As Congress prepares to return to work, another fight over raising the debt ceiling appears on the horizon. On Monday, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew wrote a letter to Congress saying his department would exhaust the "extraordinary measures" it holds to keep the U.S. from breaching the limit in mid-October:

"Congress should act as soon as possible to meet its responsibility to the nation and to remove the threat of default," he wrote. "Under any circumstance — in light of the schedule, the inherent viability of cash flows, and the dire consequences of miscalculation — Congress must act before the middle of October."

The debt ceiling deadline, coupled with the October 1st expiration of funding for the government, sets up a critical few weeks in September, especially considering that only nine legislative days are currently scheduled for Congress in September. President Obama has previously said he would not negotiate a debt ceiling increase, a position the White House reiterated this week after the Lew announcement.

While President Obama may want a clean debt ceiling increase, it is highly unlikely he will get one. Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH), speaking at a fundraiser in Idaho this week, said there would be no debt ceiling increase without spending cuts and changes to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

Search for a new federal reserve chair

Will the next Federal Reserve Chair be a woman? As the Obama administration searches for a replacement for outgoing Chair Ben Bernanke, it is coming under pressure to appoint a woman to the position.

Janet Yellen, the current Vice Chair and a former Clinton Administration official, would be the first female leader of the Fed. The Obama administration has come under some criticism for a failure to appoint enough women to high level executive branch positions.

Yellen and former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers are considered the two most likely picks. Insiders believe that many in the Administration favor a Summers appointment.

House working on short term CR to avoid government shutdown

During a conference call with Republican House members Thursday night, Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said the Republican leadership plans to work on a short-term continuing resolution to avoid a potential government shutdown.

"When we return, our intent is to move quickly on a short-term continuing resolution that keeps the government running and maintains current sequester spending levels. Our message will remain clear: until the president agrees to better cuts and reforms that help grow the economy and put us on a path to a balanced budget, his sequester – the sequester he himself proposed, insisted on, and signed into law – stays in place," Boehner said, according to someone on the call.

Boehner did not, however, indicate whether he would support linking any short-term spending measure to defunding Obamacare. Such a move is being pushed by conservatives and Tea Party groups.

Seven bills that could actually pass Congress this year

With Congress returning next week, here is a look at seven bills that could actually pass both chambers this year:

Water Resources

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is set to mark up the Water Resources Reform and Development Act in September, readying it for an October floor vote. The bill has support from committee Republicans and Democrats, which means there should be no floor-time surprises like the kind that killed the farm bill earlier this year.

The Senate has passed its own version, also on a bipartisan vote. The only questions start to arise if the measure makes it to a conference committee.

Last year, the Senate was able to force most of its bipartisan highway bill through the House because the House proved unable to pass its own version. This year House negotiators are in a much stronger position to bargain. The House is likely to insist that mandates for the Army Corps of Engineers—such as automatically deauthorizing projects that have been delayed too long—remain in the final product.

Sentencing laws

Bipartisan legislation to reform the country's statutory minimum-sentencing laws, to combat skyrocketing prison populations, and to curb what some say is money wasted on lengthy prison terms for nonviolent crimes, including many drug offenses, is under construction and could pass in both chambers this year.

Defense authorization

The House passed its version of the national defense authorization bill in early July by a vote of 315-108. The Senate is expected to take up its version before the end of the session.

Pharmaceutical compounding

A pharmaceutical compounding bill to more clearly define the roles of the Food and Drug Administration and state boards of pharmacy in overseeing pharmaceutical compounding facilities, which custom mix drugs, could become law by year's end. A bipartisan Senate bill passed out of committee in May, but did not get a vote before the August recess.

Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) and ranking member Lamar Alexander (R-TN) introduced an updated version of the legislation in July. The House version of the legislation hasn't gotten out of committee yet, and a discussion draft introduced by Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA) differs from the Senate version in how it categorizes compounding facilities for regulation.

The House has passed a separate bill to more closely track drugs through the nation's supply chain, something that would be done in the Senate Health and Education Committee's compounding bill.

Some aspects of postal reform

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa's (R-CA) postal reform bill was approved by his committee along party lines. It includes efforts to soften previous proposals to close rural post offices, which could provide House leadership with the votes they need to bring the bill to the floor.

A bipartisan Senate bill introduced by Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Carper (D-DE) and the committee's ranking member, Tom Coburn (R-OK) contains some significant differences from the House bill. These differences include a more delayed transition to five-day mail delivery.

Medical devices legislation

Legislation to repeal a 2.3 percent excise tax on medical devices enacted to help pay for President Obama's health care law stands a chance of passage. In the House, the bill has 259 cosponsors. In the Senate, a 79-20 symbolic, nonbinding vote was taken in March to repeal the tax as part of its 2014 budget resolution.

Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court

Legislation to reform the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which oversees requests for surveillance warrants, could get a boost after the recent revelations that it authorized broad record-collection and surveillance of Americans.

Political Bits:

House Arkansas 4th Congressional District: Arkansas Lt. Governor Mark Darr (R) said he will no longer be a candidate for Congress. His announcement comes one week after discrepancies in his campaign finance reports emerged.

West Virginia 3rd Congressional District: The NRCC announced a $25,000 ad buy against Rep. Nick Rahall (D) accusing him of voting for a carbon tax.

Senate

New Jersey special election: A new poll out this week shows Newark Mayor Cory Booker (D-NJ) with a huge lead over ex-Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan (R-NJ). Booker leads Lonegan in the race to fill the seat of the deceased Frank Lautenberg by a 50 percent to 22 percent margin. 

A look ahead:

House Wednesday, September 4 -- The Senate Energy and Natural Resource Committee’s Public Lands, Forests and Mining Subcommittee will hold a field hearing on the current state of coal-generated electricity in U.S. power markets and the challenges and opportunities the coal industry faces, at 9:30 a.m. in Morgantown, W.Va. Senate Wednesday, September 4 -- The House Natural Resources Committee will hold a full committee field hearing on State and Local Efforts to Protect Species, Jobs, Property, and Multiple Use Amidst a New War on the West, at 9:00 a.m. (part one) and 1:30 p.m. (part two) in Billings, Montana. 

Washington by the numbers

46 - The percentage of Americans who prefer to let e-mails pile up while they’re on vacation

Washington humor

“The attorney general of New York is now suing Donald Trump for $40 million.… The state claims [Trump’s university] is not a real college because the students get very little education and were unable to find jobs after they graduated. Sounds like a real college to me.” -- NBC’s Jay Leno

 

 Steven C. LaTourette, President | 202.559.2600

McDonald Hopkins Government Strategies LLC 101 Constitution Avenue NW, Suite 600 East, Washington, D.C. 20001 

www.mcdonaldhopkinsgs.com

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